Jamaica - Overview of economy

Tourism and bauxite and alumina production dominated Jamaica's economy in 2001, but the island's early economy was centered around the production of one thing: sugar. The English colonists who occupied the island in 1655 imported slave labor and developed large sugar plantations. For the colony's first 2 centuries sugar production dominated the economy, but the end of slavery in 1834 and the beginning of banana production ended this mono-culture (dependence on a single crop). Nevertheless, sugar remained Jamaica's dominant export until the 1950s.

Jamaica entered the 20th century as a crown colony of England, which meant that it was administered by officials from England. Jamaica received limited self rule

in 1944, but the growing power of the country's black majority was acknowledged in 1962 with the island's peaceful claim of independence. Since claiming its independence, Jamaica has struggled to create a stable, diversified economy. By the end of the 20th century, Jamaica had not yet created a truly vibrant economy and remained heavily dependent on the United States and Europe for imported goods, and on international lending agencies for financial assistance.

Jamaica is primarily a free-market economy with some state control; despite occasional political violence, it has a fairly stable, 2-party political system and the strong economic support of the United States, Canada, and the European Union. The economy's main exports are bauxite, alumina, sugar, and bananas, but the greatest single contributor to the national economy is tourism. Mining is largely conducted in the island's central highlands, and tourist activities are concentrated on the island's north and west coasts; farms—many of them quite small—are spread throughout the island. Limited manufacturing, retail trade, and services are centered around the urban centers of Kingston and Montego Bay. Because of its limited productive capacity, the island nation is heavily dependent on imported goods and on foreign debt relief to sustain its struggling economy.

Neither mining nor tourism is capable of providing enough jobs to counteract long-standing problems with unemployment. Unemployment reached nearly 40 percent in the 1970s under the democratic socialist government of Michael Manley. Even under the more conservative regimes of later governments, unemployment often hovered around 20 percent. In 1998 unemployment stood at 15.5 percent; by contrast, the unemployment rate in the United States in 1999 was just 4.2 percent.

Despite its economic difficulties—trade imbalance, high unemployment, underdeveloped commercial sector—Jamaica is largely perceived by the outside world as an island paradise. Tourists from North America, Europe, and Japan flock to the sunny Caribbean island in the winter, and they find luxurious hotels and many businesses dedicated to serving their needs.

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